NORFOLK — If you like big plays, Fremont Bergan’s Class C-2 playoff game against Norfolk Catholic on Friday night was the place to be.
Unfortunately for Bergan, top-ranked NC had a few more big plays and will advance to the second round after a 77-32 victory.
“We battled them and responded numerous times," Bergan coach Seth Mruz said. "We hung with them for a long time. I told the kids that is the way to go out."
Norfolk Catholic scored on its opening drive. Dylan Kautz capped the 10-play, 59-yard march with a 4-yard touchdown. It was the first of four first-half TDs by the senior, who finished with more than 350 yards rushing on the night.
Bergan went three-and-out on its first series, but had much better fortune on its second drive.
Quarterback Jake Ridder connected with Jackson Gilfry on a 46-yard touchdown pass. The conversion kick failed, leaving Catholic up 7-6.
After Kautz scored on a 22-yard to stretch the lead to 14-6 with 1:22 left in the first quarter, Bergan used its special teams to cut into the deficit.
Senior Dylan Gartner broke through the NC line to block a punt. He also recovered it in the end zone for a touchdown. The try for two failed, but Bergan pulled within 14-12.
"I was pretty impressed with our mentality coming out of the gate," Mruz said. "They had a long drive, but we responded. We blocked a punt and we traded scores for a while. It was just one of those deals that they have good athletes with big, strong guys up front. We just didn't do a good of tackling at the point of attack. They got loose on some long runs."
Kautz and teammate Evan Smith helped Catholic stretch the advantage to 28-12. Kautz, the defending Class C state champion in the 100 and 200 meters, had a 52-yard TD run. Smith added a 70-yard scoring jaunt with 4:29 left in the half.
Bergan junior Ethan Villwok got into the big-play act on the first scrimmage play following Smith’s TD. He took a handoff from Ridder, kept his balance after getting hit, and went 59-yards for a score. Ridder connected with Eli Herink on the two-point conversion to make 28-20 with 4:18 left in the second quarter.
Kautz, who finished with 223 yards in the first half, had a 37-yard touchdown and Jack Marsden hauled in a 28-yard scoring pass to make it 42-20 at halftime.
Bergan scored on its first series of the second half. A Ridder-to-Herink 18-yard pass helped set up Ridder’s 38-yard touchdown run. The try for two failed, but Bergan pulled to within 42-26.
Kautz answered Ridder’s score with a 77-yard touchdown. Marsden then picked off a Knights' pass and returned it for another score.
Mruz was impressed with Kautz's running ability.
"I've watched him over the last few years," he said. "He's done a really good job of developing vision and lateral quickness. He is very explosive now. He is not just a track guy where he is going to bend around the corner or just run straight ahead. ... He's done his work in the weight room. A lot of our tackles, we were there and bodied him up. We just didn't hang on to him."
The Knights weren't done. Ridder connected with Herink for a 24-yard touchdown pass. Kautz got his sixth touchdown on a 40-yard scoring run to make it 63-32.
Backup Norfolk Catholic quarterback Nate Brugardt connected with tight end Cameron Bettenhausen for a 26-yard touchdown pass in the final minute of the third quarter. Riley Carlson’s 10th extra point extended the advantage to 70-32.
Bergan lost a fumble on it next series and NC tacked on another touchdown. Reserve running back Robby Otero scored on a 4-yard run.
The loss ends Bergan’s season at 6-4. All four of the Knights’ losses occurred against state playoff teams. Catholic, after losing its opener to Pierce, has won nine straight to improve to 9-1.
For the Bergan seniors, they have come a long ways after not winning a game as eighth-graders. After a two-year absence, that group led the Knights back to the postseason.
"I'm so happy for the seniors to get into the playoffs," Mruz said. "They set a good example of how you are supposed to practice, prepare and play your season. Our younger kids will learn from them."